A detective in charge of a unit accused of making racist and sexist remarks as well as circulating fake Royal pornography today admitted ‘with hindsight his leadership should have been more rigorous’.
Det Insp Timothy Ireson said he should have been aware of an ‘escalation in behaviour’ among his officers as they made repeated ‘stomach turning’ remarks.
The serious organised crime team, previously described as ‘ableist, sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic’, were caught using an array of abusive language in a covert recording.
A junior officer told a misconduct hearing that in the ‘isolated’ unit everyone became ‘inappropriately cavalier’ due to a culture in which nothing was ever challenged.
Det Insp Timothy Ireson (pictured) said he should have been aware of an ‘escalation in behaviour’ among his officers as they made repeated ‘stomach turning’ remarks
This was exacerbated by DI’s ‘weak’ leadership as he presided over a ‘toxic’ workplace, the disciplinary hearing at Hampshire Police HQ in Eastleigh heard today.
Six officers within the SOCU unit at Northern Police Investigation Centre in Basingstoke, Hants are accused of either making ‘abhorrent’ comments, or not challenging others when those remarks were made.
The officers accused of gross misconduct are Detective Inspector Timothy Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, PC James Oldfield, and PC Craig Bannerman.
The officers accused of gross misconduct are Detective Inspector Timothy Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, PC James Oldfield, and PC Craig Bannerman. Pictured: Hampshire Police and Investigation Centre in Basingstoke
Following an anonymous complaint to a whistleblowing service, covert recording devices were placed in the unit’s offices between March 9 and April 2, 2018.
Investigators also began monitoring their WhatsApp messages and emails.
They uncovered ‘abhorrent’ messages and explicit content, including fake pornography purporting to show the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
DI Ireson was in charge of the specialist team and has been accused of showing ‘weak’ and ‘permissive’ leadership.
Today the hearing, viewed by members of the press via video link in Winchester, Hants, heard DI Ireson’s reaction to claims his relaxed attitude allowed a ‘toxic’ culture to develop.
Luke Ponte, defending DI Ireson, said: ‘He accepted in his evidence that a cavalcade of words and phrases that are the subject of recordings fell at the extreme end of the scale.
‘Hearing those words in this room, seeing those words, single obscenity by obscenity, is impactful and shocking and turns the stomach.’
Mr Ponte said however, that there was a complete ‘absence of evidence’ that DI Ireson was aware of the worst ‘excesses’ of his team’s behaviour.
DI Ireson (pictured) was in charge of the specialist team and has been accused of showing ‘weak’ and ‘permissive’ leadership
He added: ‘He tolerated a degree of teasing, swearing, inappropriate language but nothing which approaches the extreme and obviously inappropriate language in the probes.’
He also argued the misconduct hearing had acted as a ‘magnifying glass’ and ignored the context in which specific words were used.
He continued: ‘Extreme language was used [by the team] but the process given by these proceedings inevitably amplifies that.
‘They were repeated when the opening note was addressed to you, they were repeated again when officers gave evidence when cross examined.
‘I say [this process] acts as a magnifying glass. That operational focus has tracked ever closer to a phrase here, a word there, to the exclusion of all else around it.’
Six officers within the SOCU unit at Northern Police Investigation Centre in Basingstoke, Hants are accused of either making ‘abhorrent’ comments, or not challenging others when those remarks were made. Pictured: Hampshire Police HQ
Mr Ponte said that the panel would have to consider to what extent DI Ireson’s ‘failings in leadership’ led to the ‘toxic culture’.
He continued: ‘His conduct does not reflect the egregious behaviour of his team… He accepts with hindsight his leadership should have been more rigorous, more intrusive.
‘He should not have tolerated the extent of swearing. He should have been more alert to the question of an escalation of behaviour.
‘His style of management, was informed by good intentions. He’s a decent man but with shortcomings in the end.’
However, Adrian Keeling, QC, defending PC Oldfield, who also faces one allegation of coming into work drunk, said the culture developed because DI Ireson failed to manage the team.
Adrian Keeling, QC, defending PC Oldfield, who also faces one allegation of coming into work drunk, said the culture developed because DI Ireson (pictured) failed to manage the team
He added that the stress and intense workload on the ‘highly successful’ unit led to strong relationships forming and officers would ‘forget to apply the filter’.
Mr Keeling said: ‘The culture that arose was a powerful one and so powerful it influenced a large number of officers.
‘However, toxicity is too easy and too glib and too pejorative a description. What was said was restricted to that closed environment.
‘[The officers] had become inappropriately cavalier in what they could, or could not, say in that context.
‘What has happened is in that closed environment they forgot, or neglected, to put on the filter they would have elsewhere.
‘It is to be noted quite how many officers said things or failed to challenge them.
‘It is highly unlikely this unit somehow managed to have in it a large proportion of discriminatory officers, that somehow all the bad apples had ended up in the same office.’
Previously the hearing was told women were referred to as ‘sl**s’, ‘sugar t***’ and ‘sweet t***’, while an officer’s partner was described as ‘an absolute whore’.
The tribunal also earlier heard claims the unit sent ‘explicit and highly offensive’ fake pornographic pictures of Royals.
On May 22, 2018, Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson sent an image to the Socu WhatsApp group showing the Duke of Sussex engaging in a sex act with the Duchess of Cambridge.
It is among several ‘abhorrent’ messages alledgedly sent in a group chat which included foul language and explicit content.
The tribuanal also heard officers likened the only black officer to a mixed breed dog, sang the Bob Marley song Buffalo Soldier at him and said he had been flown ‘from Africa in a crate’ and taken to London Zoo.
The hearing heard the squad also placed a map of Africa above the area in the office where two men of African heritage sat and nicknamed it ‘African Corner’.
But the wife of the only black officer in the unit said her husband felt ‘a real camaraderie’ with his white colleagues despite their use of ‘racist’ language, the hearing heard today.
A lawyer representing South African PC Craig Bannerman said any suggestion Ghanaian DC Solomon Koranteng was being ‘singled out’ as an outsider was misleading.
Colin Banham, defending, argued that DC Koranteng was not a victim as he had been portrayed during the misconduct hearing and said he actually enjoyed life in the specialist team.
Mr Banham, representing PC Bannerman, who has since left the force, said: ‘I am afraid that throughout, the appropriate authority have suggested DC Koranteng was bullied, ostracised and singled out for ridicule.
‘Not only was [PC Bannerman] very good friends with Solomon and sat next to him, they were practically inseparable and he remains good friends with him.’
A statement from PC Bannerman, which he made to investigators, said: ‘I sat next to DC Koranteng and we struck up a friendship. This was due to us having African heritage, the same sense of humour and perhaps because we were different.’
PC Bannerman told investigators he and DC Koranteng, who faces no charges at this hearing, were known to be good friends and claimed one barrister even jokingly referred to them as ‘ebony and ivory’.
A statement from Mrs Koranteng, read to court today, said: ‘Craig is one of Sol’s best friends.
‘He’s from South Africa originally which gave them common ground.
‘Craig and his wife have become good friends to both of us. They have been to our house and we often socialise with them.
‘Craig is always on hand to help with any DIY, thank goodness…. My husband was genuinely very happy working in SOCU.
‘There was a real team spirit… There seemed to be a real camaraderie and I got the impression they really bonded and I know Sol has made friends for life.’
Oldfield, Ferguson, Ireson, along with Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox and former Pc Craig Bannerman, are accused of breaching professional standards.
The hearing has been told DI Ireson has retired and PC Bannerman has resigned since the covert recordings were made.
The police officers all admit misconduct but deny gross misconduct.
The tribunal panel is likely to give its decision on Friday and the men will then discover in January if they face sanctions, which could include losing their jobs.